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Online groups creating new communities of people with shared values 

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Digital transformation is not just about businesses. Thais are also actively building communities online to connect with each other and share interests. 

Thais are turning to technology, including through Facebook, to create social good and to help each other online – with real-world impacts. 
Currently, nearly 1 million active Facebook Groups have been created by Thai people. For example, Help Us Read is a community of more than 11,000 volunteers and visually impaired Thais. Using text-to-audio features on their mobile devices, visually impaired members are able to “read” content that helps them in their daily lives.
Natwut Amornvivat, co-founder and administrator of Help Us Read, said the group was established with a sense of community and support for blind people in Thailand, who often struggle to find the basic help they need each day. 
“Today, our community of more than 11,000 people connects visually impaired members with volunteers who are willing to be their ‘eyes’,” said Natwut. “We rely on the tools available on Facebook to help visually impaired members ‘read’ content, such as food labels, books and even describe pictures or cards from their children. This helps bring real value and impact to their lives. We’re now excited to extend our community into other countries.” 
Since Facebook is accessible by the visually impaired, Natwut changed his mind from his original idea of developing an app to serve that community, and instead turned to Facebook and started Help Us Read. Immediately, within the first week of launch, there were 700 to 800 volunteers participating on the page. That has now reached 10,000 volunteers, with someone available 24 hours daily, seven days a week to help by reading drug labels or other information.
“It is kindness blended with technology,” said Natwut. “Facebook is the bridge that links these two different groups together, the blind and people with ‘normal’ vision.” 
Cholatip Yimyong, co-founder and administrator of Help Us Read, said she found Help Us Read on Facebook four years ago.
Another socially useful Facebook group is Run2gether, a community of more than 28,000 people. It organises mini-marathons to promote the inclusion and equality of non-disabled and disabled people. Facebook serves as the platform for participants to connect and share their experiences.
Chatchai Aphibanpoonpon, the Group and Page Administrator of Run2gether, said the group serves a community of runners with disabilities. Set up for four years ago, the objective of Run2gether is to invite visually impaired and disabled people to get exercise by running.
Chatchai has always worked closely with blind people and found that many of them are overweight. This led to the idea of inviting them to run. But those with strong visual challenges need partners to run with them and cannot run alone. And that’s where the Run2gether initiative fitted in. 
“At the first event of Run2gether, mini-marathons, we had 12 blind people and 12 volunteers running together. They had a ‘shared experience’ and became friends. Able-bodied people now have disabled friends, and they will always be thinking of their disabled friends,” said 
Chatchai. He used Facebook as a platform to connects able-bodied community members to those with disabilities, as well as a place to share the experience and to connect.
And the idea may be catching on – a Run2gether event and community page has opened for Bulgaria.
Arnun Chantan, or Lek, a member of Run2gether, said that he became disabled because of disease. When he came across Run2gether three years ago he was not able to even walk, but has now turned his life around and is running. In fact, he is now a full-marathon runner, able to cover 42 kilometres.
Then there is the HandUp Network, a community of more than 5,000 connecting skilled professionals with non-government organisations (NGOs) to help the groups learn the skills needed to scale their operations and create greater impact. 
Thunhavich Thitiratsakul, project manager of HandUp Network, said it has provided a place for everyone who can contribute their skills to help others. The HandUp Network in 2015 debuted on Facebook, and has helped 27 society organisations in Thailand.

Facebook for society 
John Wagner, managing director of Facebook Thailand said that one of the social site’s missions is to support communities, to help them achieve growth and fully realise their digital aspirations. 
“Facebook is a platform connecting people and creating shared value,” he said, pointing to the more than 1 million Facebook Groups created by Thais. “We are inspired by the amazing communities developing within Thailand’s digital society.” Many of the million groups aim to create a positive social impact.
Facebook is committed to amplifying the social value created by Thai communities with local programmes, he said. For example, Facebook has teamed up with C-Asean to conduct a series of training sessions and workshops aimed at helping social enterprises in Thailand gain critical skills to grow their operations.

Published : May 27, 2018

By : Asina Pornwasin The Nation